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Vantastrophe: The Life and Death of the Green Machine

When I was in middle school, my parents bought a 2004 GMC Sanvana with a wheelchair lift. I was excited and enthusiastic, as I no longer had to be lifted in and out of vehicles. This was huge because it was so much easier on my back. Actually, my butt was happy too because I was never able to sit properly in a vehicle seat.

When my parents were still married we took several family trips in the Green Machine. I believe the Green Machine has taken me to about 25 states and one country. Some of the states include Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska, Florida, Colorado and many in between. I went to Canada to watch the Blue Jays play when I was 13. I will always fondly look back at those trips and appreciate that the Green Machine got me there safely.

When I moved out to my own apartment, the Green Machine came with me. He has successfully gotten me around town and back and forth to Mayo Clinic. However, these past few years have been unkind to him. His health is fading and his body is crippled. The Green Machine no longer is able to safely transport me, in fact he is basically bedridden at this point!

All jokes aside, it has been a bumpy road to say the least. Lifting a heavy wheelchair in and out on the hydraulic lift took its toll on my van. Additionally, I guess you could say I outgrew the Green Machine. As a teenager, I grew quite tall. As I grew, so did the size of my wheelchair. For the past number of years, I have had to duck to get in and out of the van. This may not seem like a big deal, but my CP affects both my gross and fine motor skills. I also have a visual perception deficit that makes it difficult for me to line up my chair. I have trouble bending forward and even more trouble moving my head sideways. I have to perform this task as I am moving my chair forward or backward, on and off the lift. Over the past few years the van has been in and out of the shop to fix various issues with the lift.

Let’s talk about hydraulics for a moment. More specifically, hydraulics in Wisconsin. Lowering a hydraulic lift in the dead of winter is like watching a snail running a marathon. On the coldest days, I think the snail would cross the finish line before my lift lowered to the ground. My mom describes it as “moving at the speed of smell”. There have been times that we had to use the manual controls, as it was just too cold to lower. I definitely do not recommend having a hydraulic lift in cold states.

About two years ago, the Green Machine tried to cook me alive! My caregiver, Adam, and I went to watch the Menominee Powwow in Keshena, WI. It was a very hot August day and the sun was unrelenting. My air conditioning at that time was incapacitated. Adam went to open the automatic doors and nothing happened. I literally was trapped. The windows in the back do not open, so it was heating up fast. My mom was there and came to try to help and nothing worked. Adam drove me to a gas station where he was able to disengage the doors. We were able to go back and watch the powwow. However, when we got home the doors would not open at all. Adam had to drive me to a man’s house. He had a shop in his garage and they thought they could fix the doors. I had to be taken out of the van by the paramedics and transported home in an ambulance. The automatic parts were completely removed from the doors at that time. We have had door issues ever since.

This past Friday night, my caregiver Randy and I decided to check out the holiday parade. We had a great time and even watched a camel walk down Stewart Ave! All was going well until we attempted to go home. Randy pulled the van up to someone’s driveway to give me a flat service to roll on. The lift lowered just fine and I had myself positioned on it…and then…nothing. Randy tried the manual method of lifting the ramp…again, nothing. Randy thought quick on his feet and called the expert, Adam! Adam left his family on a Friday night to come to the rescue. My mom was called too and she got there shortly after. The lift was shot, it was not going anywhere and we were blocking a driveway. It was dark and cold. Luckily, my mom is a mom…she had 2 blankets in the van, “just in case”. They came in handy! I had a variety of feelings at this time. I was stressed, angry, frustrated and scared. I literally was stranded miles from home. I can’t just hop in a cab or someone else’s car. My van could not be moved with the lift stuck on the ground. My mom called her friends to help. Five more additional people came. It took the strength and power of five men to lift my lift back into the van. That problem was solved, but now how was I getting home? Adam came to the rescue once again. He was able to lift me into his car. This was a painful process for me and I know it was for Adam too. The guys then lifted my chair into the back of someone’s pickup truck. When we got back to my apartment, I had to be lifted out of the car once again.

When I went to bed that night, I was relieved. I was also so incredibly grateful for everyone who came to my rescue. Not only did they help get me home, they kept my spirits high and brought laughter to the situation. I went to bed feeling very lucky. However, I was also in pain. My back was killing me from the ordeal. The next morning I woke up with no voice. I think the stress of the ordeal took its toll on me. I have not quite fully recovered and even had to make a trip to the urgent care.

Rob, a friend, came and picked up my van hoping to fix the lift for me. He was not able to. He took the van to Wisconsin Rapids for me to a repair shop. Unfortunately, this afternoon my mom got the bad news that the lift motor is dead. The cost to repair is beyond what my mom and I can afford.

Until we figure this all out, I will have to get around town on the bus. The downside of this is the busses only run till 6:30pm and only on the weekdays. My mom has never taken the bus in Wausau before and she is not good with maps, so this will be interesting. We decided our first venture will be to Shopko next week!

This situation has been stressful to say the least. It is really inconvenient and will affect my ability to travel. I choose to see this as a challenge, one I will overcome. I will continue blogging, but may focus on other topics related to disabilities until I am rollin’ once again!

My next blog will be about Cerebral Palsy. Since I have been blogging and been out in the community more, my mom and I have gotten quite a few questions about my disability. If you have any questions about CP, message me on Facebook or post your question in the comment section.


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